As far as I'm concerned, going animated is the right approach to bring Dr. Seuss to the big screen—the makers of Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who! were able to keep the brilliant angles, wild colors and, well, Seussicality of San Diego's favorite son intact. Goofy elephant Horton (Jim Carrey) finds a tiny speck, upon which lives an entire village of Whos, led by the Mayor (Steve Carell), who has 96 daughters, one emo-Who-son, and who ends up in a dialogue with the out-of-his-world elephant. As Horton takes it upon himself to rescue the speck and the Whos that live on it, both the pachyderm and the politician find themselves in dire straits—no one believes them and everyone wants their crazy talk silenced. In fact, a nasty kangaroo (Carol Burnett) even goes so far as to rally the rest of the animal kingdom against poor Horton, who's only trying to do right by the Whos.
Though indubitably a kids film, there are some inside jokes and a fairly inspired anime sequence for the moms and dads that go along for the ride. The animation is lovely enough, and the celebrity voices don't outweigh the entire premise (Will Arnett is particularly great as Vlad, the vulture contracted to dispose of Horton's speck). And let's face it, the message of the film, thinking individually and celebrating non-conformity, is a good one for everyone, no matter how small.—Anders Wright
CJ7: Stephen Chow returns with his first feature since the terrific Kung Fu Hustle, playing a poor laborer who hopes for—but is unable to deliver—a better life for his young son. Unable to afford anything new, he finds the kid a strange new toy at the dump, and that's when everything changes. Why? Because instead of just being a tiny robot dog, this is a tiny alien robot dog, which brings dad and son closer than ever before. Like Gremlins, minus the bloodshed.
Chicago 10: Director Brett Morgan takes on the famous trial of Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin and the other Yippies who, according to the government, instigated the riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. This is anything but a conventional documentary. Morgan weaves the amazing footage he collected into a narrative, rather than going the standard talking-head route, and tackles the court scenes by having actors read the transcripts on top of rotoscoped animation, going back and forth between two entirely different looks and feels. Hank Azaria voices Abbie Hoffman, while the late Roy Scheider, in one of his last roles, is the voice of Judge Julius Hoffman (no relation), the very picture of government repression. Please see our review on Page 23.
Doomsday: Following the low-budget success of Dog Soldiers and the slightly bigger-budget success of The Descent, writer/director Neil Marshall is finally given some money to work with. So he sends a team of soldiers and scientists into a sealed-off contaminated zone in the U.K. in hopes of finding a cure for a virus that threatens humanity. Tough chick Rhona Mitra is the squad's head honcho, facing off against all kinds of Road Warrior-influenced punk-rock bad-asses, led by perennial bad-ass Malcolm McDowell.
Funny Games: The German writer/director Michael Haneke does a remake of his own 1997 film, this time in English. Funny Games is brutal and vicious, starring Naomi Watts and Tim Roth as a husband and wife who, along with their 10-year-old son, are mentally and physically tortured by a pair of good-looking, articulate young sadists. Nasty business.
Grand Canyon Adventure: River at Risk: Robert Redford narrates this new Imax journey, following environmentalist Robert Kennedy Jr. as he rafts his way through the Grand Canyon, on the Colorado River, along with anthropologist Wade Davis, as the two document new efforts to conserve water and restore the river. Music is provided by the Dave Matthews Band. Grand Canyon Adventure plays only at the Ruben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
Married Life: It's the 1940s, and Harry (Chris Cooper) has fallen for Kay (Rachel McAdams), a younger, hotter woman than his wife, Pat (Patricia Clarkson). Two problems, however—first, Harry's best bud, Richard (Pierce Brosnan), finds that he, too, has a thing for Kay, and second, Harry can't bring himself to leave Pat. So he does what any patriotic, red-blooded American male would do in his situation—he decides to murder her.
Never Back Down: Take the new-kid-in-school side of The Karate Kid, add it to the underground thrashings of Fight Club, multiply it by the Ultimate Fighting Championship's Octagon and divide it all by The O.C. That's Never Back Down.
One time only
Dr. No: The first James Bond film feels a little old-fashioned, but its success ushered in a wave of '60s spy films, kicked off a franchise that has earned a ridiculous amount of money and made us all wish we were as cool as Sean Connery. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, March 12, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma. Free.
Performance: There's nothing quite like Performance, the twisted 1970 picture from Nicholas Roeg and Donald Cammell starring James Fox as a London gangster on the lam who rents a room from fading rock star Mick Jagger (yup, fading, back in '70) and who ends up discovering the swinging '60s through his funky-ass landlord. Experimental, non-linear, psychedelic and utterly unique, this is one Performance not to be missed. Screens at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 13, at the La Jolla location of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego.
Teeny-Tiny Film Series: Women of the Silent Screen: FilmPower!, the new arm of UCSD's ArtPower!, runs its second silent-film night, featuring a live score, plenty of audience participation and very quiet girls on film. Check City Week for the lowdown.
Anche Libero va Bene: Writer/director Kim Rossi Stuart also plays Renato Benetti, a single father in Rome struggling to care for his son and teenaged daughter after his wife flakes out on them—all seen through the eyes of his young boy. Screens at 7 p.m. Friday, March 14, at the Italian Community Center in Little Italy.
Keep Not Silent: Ortho Dykes: Eveoke's series of women's rights films continues with Keep Not Silent, the winner of the Best Documentary at the Israeli Oscars, about three lesbians trying to live religiously committed lives in the Orthodox societies in Jerusalem. Dr. Deborah Hertz, a historian from UCSD and the Wouk Chair for Modern Jewish Studies, will lead a post-film discussion. Screens at 6 p.m. Saturday, March 15, at Eveoke Dance Theater in North Park.
Margot at the Wedding: Noah Baumbach's follow-up to The Squid and the Whale features a terrific performance from Nicole Kidman as Margot, a self-involved New York novelist who travels upstate to attend the wedding of her sister (Jennifer Jason-Leigh) to a slacker musician (Jack Black). An homage to dysfunctional families everywhere, Margot includes the obligatory shot of Jack Black's ass. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Monday, March 17, at the downtown Central Library. Free.
Swingers: The movie that launched Vince Vaughn, Jon Favreau and director Doug Liman is still so money. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, March 19, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma. Free.
10,000 B.C.: Roland Emmerich's first film since The Day After Tomorrow could be subtitled “The Day Before Yesterday.” It follows a young mammoth hunter who takes on sabertooth tigers and a nasty dominant civilization. The effects look terrific, and everyone speaks English, which totally comes in handy when it comes to those unfortunate time-machine accidents.
The Bank Job: Jason Statham and his buddies are amateur crooks who hit the big time in this gritty, '70s-style flick that also stars Saffron Burrows as the hottie who cons Statham and Co. into pulling a bank heist. But it's only after they've got the loot that they find themselves in serious danger, as vengeful politicians, angry pornographers, crooked cops, pissed-off black militants and even MI-5 want to get their hands on what the robbers got away with. Very loosely based on the then-infamous “Walkie-Talkie Robbery,” The Bank Job is a slow boil with more class than most of Statham's recent action-thrillers.
College Road Trip: Martin Lawrence is an overbearing cop who insists on escorting his smokin'-hot 17-year-old daughter to the schools she's interested in. Yep, she's embarrassed. So is the audience. The Counterfeiters: Winner of this year's Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, The Counterfeiters is about Operation Bernhardt, the Nazi attempt to counterfeit British and American currency in the waning days of World War II. It tells the story of Jewish master forger Sally Sorowitsch (Karl Markovics), who heads up the detail of craftsmen whose lives are spared as long as they support the German war effort, knowing the entire time that if they do their job well, the war will continue on.
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day: Frances McDormand is Miss Pettigrew, an English governess in need of a job who signs on as the assistant of a ditzy American actress (Amy Adams) whose romantic life is in such turmoil that only a strict English governess can sort it out. Of course, as she blossoms in her new high-society role, it's not impossible that Miss Pettigrew will attract some beaus of her own. Frances McDormand is terrific in everything she touches, and Amy Adams just gets better and better.
The Band's Visit: This charming drama was disqualified as Israel's Best Foreign Language Film Oscar submission because so much of it is in English. But you can see why they put it forward—the story of an Egyptian police band stuck in a backwater Israeli settlement is sweet and funny without being cloying, with subtle performances and a theme that plays like a soft Chet Baker trumpet solo.
City of Men: The feature-length film version of the Brazilian TV show of the same name—which was created as a sequel to the film City of God—City of Men follows two lifelong friends, Ace (Douglas Silva) and Wallace (Darlan Cunha) as they struggle with young adulthood and the day-to-day issues of living in an impoverishd Rio 'hood. It's good, though not as good as its big-screen predecessor—but that's a big comparison to live up to.
The Other Boleyn Girl: So, you're Henry VIII and you look just like Eric Bana. Nice. You can have your pick of the English birds, but you're drawn to the Boleyn sisters, who look remarkably like Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson. Now, this isn't historically accurate in any way, shape or form, but it seems like a win-win for Henry, even if he eventually beheads the sister he ends up with.
Semi-Pro: You know how Will Ferrell movies oscillate between being really dumb and funny and just really dumb? This one, which finds Will playing Jackie Moon, the owner/coach/player of an ABA basketball team who got his money by singing a sexy, Barry White-esque '70s love song, is the just really dumb kind.
4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days: An extremely well-made, excruciatingly tough movie about a back-alley abortion during the waning years of Romania's communist period. Writer-director Cristian Mungiu's film deservedly took the Palm d'Or at Cannes last year, and though it's tough to watch, it's a superb piece of art. Mungiu sits back and lets the camera run, giving his actors long, extended takes that reflect the brutal emotions and dehumanizing politics of the day. It's not pro- or anti-abortion rights, nor is it any sort of morality tale, but it is terrifyingly real.
Be Kind Rewind: Simple. A magnetized Jack Black erases all the videos in his buddy Mos Def's shop, so they have to re-shoot, well, everything—including (but not limited to) Driving Miss Daisy, Rush Hour 2, Ghostbusters, Robocop, Back to the Future and The Lion King. There is only one man who could make this movie, and it's Michel Gondry, the dude behind Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Luckily, he did.
Vantage Point: An assassination attempt on the president (William Hurt) is seen through eight different viewpoints, each of which gives a different impression of what actually went down and why. Also stars Sigourney Weaver, Matthew Fox, Dennis Quaid and Forest Whitaker on the grassy knoll.
Definitely, Maybe: Precocious Maya (Little Miss Sunshine's Abigail Breslin) forces her about-to-be-divorced dad (Ryan Reynolds) to tell her how he and her mom got together. Like the slow-pitch-softball version of How I Met Your Mother.
George A. Romero's Diary of the Dead: Romero's latest, shot with handheld cameras, is an indictment of mass media, the blogosphere and those of us who consume the news—all told amid the imminent zombie apocalypse.
Jumper: The last time Hayden Christensen faced off against Samuel L. Jackson, he zapped him out a big window in Revenge of the Sith. In Jumper, he has a gene that allows him to teleport anywhere, anytime. This makes him rich and good-looking—but not particularly bright. Jackson, sporting a freaky dye job, is on the hunt for him and others like him. Great idea, cool FX, but very dumb, very standard execution with any nifty metaphysical questions shunted aside in favor of dumbing down for the overseas box office.
The Spiderwick Chronicles: The latest kids' fantasy-novel-turned-big-budget-movie-adaptation, Spiderwick tells the story of siblings Mallory (Sarah Bolger), Jared and Simon Grace (both played by Freddie Highmore) as their family moves into the mysterious Spiderwick Estate. The big surprise? They discover an alternate world filled with all sorts of mystical, magical creatures played or voiced by a barrage of big-name talent (Seth Rogen, David Strathairn, Martin Short, Nick Nolte).
Step Up 2 The Streets: Dancer Andie is an outcast in her new hoity-toity arts school—she just has too much street in her. But it comes in handy when she and the other dance geeks enter a hardcore dance contest. Yep, you can take the girl out of the streets, but you can't take the streets out of the girl. Or the title.
Fool's Gold: Matthew McConaughey. Kate Hudson. Skimpy bathing suits. And something about sunken treasure. Taxi to the Dark Side: Likely the best documentary about torture you'll ever see, Taxi delves into shadowy U.S. policies at Abu Ghraib and Gitmo, using a young Afghani cab driver who was detained, tortured and killed in 2002 as its starting point. Yes, director Alex Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room) shows plenty of disturbing footage and snapshots, but it's his interviews with soldiers who found themselves doing things they never imagined that are the most powerful. It's challenging to watch, but Taxi should be required viewing for really understanding the torture issue.
In Bruges: Noted playwright Martin McDonagh's dark comedy finds Colin Farrell as a killer with a conscience—a return to the charismatic, small-film style of acting that got him all those big crappy movies. Brendan Gleeson is, as always, great as his mentor, and Ralph Fiennes swears a whole hell of a lot.
27 Dresses: Katherine Heigl is the perpetual self-sacrificing bridesmaid, driven to the edge when her self-absorbed sister (Malin Akerman) hooks her all-around-great-guy boss (a puffy Ed Burns), for whom she's pined for years. At the same time, reporter Kevin (James Marsden) picks up on her story as his ticket off the wedding beat. Heigl and Marsden are charming enough to keep it fun, even if Burns phones it in. Prospective husbands beware: this is a simple, inoffensive chick-flick for chicks into weddings.
There Will Be Blood: Paul Thomas Anderson's first project since Punch-Drunk Love is easily one of the year's best, anchored by an epic, astonishing performance from Daniel Day-Lewis. He plays Daniel Plainview, a turn-of-the-20th-century oilman driven by greed and competition and utterly loathing of the world around him.
The Bucket List: Smart blue-collar Morgan Freeman and rich jerk Jack Nicholson meet in a hospital room where they're both battling cancer and become best buddies, determined to live the rest of their lives to the fullest. Interesting first act that quickly turns into an irritatingly goofy travelogue as they hit the road to check off items on their “Kick the bucket list”—like Wild Hogs for the senior set. Did those years on the political sidelines made Rob Reiner soft? He directs, but with no particular flair.
The Orphanage: Produced by Guillermo del Toro of Pan's Labyrinth and Hellboy fame, this first-time feature from director J.A. Bayona falls back on some horror-movie standards but is so well-made and so darn creepy that you won't care. Laura (Belén Rueda) returns with her husband and son to the orphanage where she was raised, only to discover that some spooky stuff went down since her adoption, and some of her childhood friends might still be hanging around.
Juno: Fizzy and enjoyable, the year's best feel-good film centers, surprisingly, on an unwed pregnant teen. That'd be Juno (Ellen Page), who decides to give her baby to a yuppie couple (Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman) and toy with her good friend and the father of her child, Paulie Bleeker (an excellent Michael Cera). With sharp dialogue from stripper-turned-screenwriter Diablo Cody and solid direction from Jason Reitman, Juno is a solid, if inoffensive, triumph.
Atonement: Though they've gone out of their way to make Atonement look like a generic period romance, Joe Wright's adaptation of Ian McEwan's shatteringly good novel is crisply directed, gorgeous to look at and terribly well-acted by James McAvoy and Keira Knightley as a star-crossed couple whose future is taken from them when Knightley's younger sister misinterprets something she sees and later turns McAvoy's Robbie in for a crime he did not commit. The buzz has been about the six-minute tracking shot on the war-strewn beaches of Dunkirk, but the real heat is between the two leads.
No Country for Old Men: Their first decent film since Fargo, No Country is a Coen Brothers masterpiece and perhaps the best picture of '07. Based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy, the story centers on a good ol' boy (Josh Brolin), an aging county sheriff (Tommy Lee Jones), a unstoppable psychopathic killer (Javier Bardem) and a valise thick with drug money. Tight, taut, challenging and brutal, it just gets better with repeated viewings.
Into the Wild: Sean Penn takes on John Krakauer's book with Emile Hirsch as Alexander Supertramp, the young man formerly known as Chris McCandless, who left his suburban family behind in the early '90s and took to the road, eventually making his way to an abandoned bus in the Alaskan wilderness. Penn makes Hirsch a little too much of a Christ figure, but the supporting cast is great, especially Hal Holbrook in the best role of his career.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show: No, it's not a time warp—the love-it-or-hate-it camp classic continues its midnight run in its 37th year of release. When the lead character of the film is a transvestite scientist named Dr. Frank-N-Furter, you know you're in for some seriously trashy viewing. And, of course, this is the one movie where you want the audience shouting at the screen. Screens Fridays at midnight at La Paloma Theater in Encinitas.
Fridays at the Fleet: Sea Monsters, The Living Sea and Mysteries of Egypt are some of the rotating films shown each Friday at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center's IMAX theater where, for only $7.50, you can catch four flicks. Sure, it's more Discovery Channel than Transformers, but the Fleet's enormous old-school dome screen is way cool, and some of the talent—narrators like Meryl Streep or Johnny Depp—is impressive. You might find yourself as mesmerized as the little kiddies sitting around you. Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park. Check www.rhfleet.org for the screening list.